Here are some travel tips for those planning a trip to south america.
1- NEVER ARRIVE AT NIGHT – chances are you’ll be making those gruelling 20 hour plus bus journeys, the last thing you want is to be wandering round a strange town with all your stuff at the dead of night.
2- YOU WILL GET ROBBED – depending on your outlook, this may be funny, mildly annoying or a personal tragedy. Keep you passport and sexually integrity intact, these things are more difficult to replace.
3- BRING A RUCKSACK NOT A SUITCASE – it may have handles, but I’m afraid that won’t cut it. Lima doesn’t have a Marriott, holiday inn, motel 8 or McDonald’s. Expect to get sand in your wheels and strange looks.
my advice buy a nice purple rucksack (like mine :)).
4- LEARN TO SPEAK SPANISH – better than waving your arms around, you can make friends and get yourself out of trouble, converse in shops etc. etc.
it costs nothing.
Doing it all by bus and train
(is there any other way?)
Passing on from Pontevedra.
– As we stood in the definitely dreary bus station at Pontevedra, we wondered just which way to go. The whole point of coming to Galicia had been to visit Santiago de Compostela for the first time – one of life’s “must do’s”, apparently. But by now we’d seen about as much of the guide books’ look-list as we needed, and we felt that somehow the focus of so many a pilgrim’s tired tootsies was likely to be even more commercial and visitee-laden than the little squares of Pontevedra. So where – where?
– Now, here’s a bus that’s apparently heading up into the hills to the East, to a place called Ponte-Caldelas : sounds good : something to do with bridges and hot springs, perhaps. Could be as lovely as Loriga (in the Sierra Nevada). The map shows it to be in surrounds alike to the attractive countryside we’d seen from the bus a day before, near to the little villages of Sacos and Cerdedo. Not even a mention in Lonely Planet – mustn’t exist! But yes, the young woman says, it is still there, and it’s lovely. Oh, are there places to stay – “si – quatro, cinco” – that’s enough for us. Pay up the few pence for a six mile ride in a good quality bus, and rush for the front seat.
– Well, wasn’t Ponte Caldelas a site to behold! No, not really. When the bus came to a halt in the main street, we gulped with dread. We’re not seeking the wondrous, but this town really is a little too “ordinary” even for us. Bland. Bald. Oh god, do we have to?
– Why hasn’t he turned the engine off? “Do you go further”, we asked – and indeed he did, for about another 10 km into the surrounding hills, to a little place that’s called “a Lama” in Galician, and Pedreira in Catalan (Spanish to us) – and in neither language could our Lonely Planet assist. But the driver said there were places to stay, so let’s go. We don’t want to stay here, and we’re not yet quite ready to go for a full retreat.
– Isn’t it just so nice when the risk pays off. As we approached the little village, it all looked just delightful. Green valley. Cows grazing the fields, and reasonably warm even this late into the year. Trees on the hills. Rushing river in the valley’s ravines. Tiddley little centro urbano, and there’s a bar sign up the road, so we’re safe from detoxification.
– As the bus drove in we’d noticed the quite large hostal on the right hand side, but Maggie just popped into the tiny town hall (bureaucracy exists also for the citizenry’s benefit on the Continent, and is generally accessible and available – it’s not as in Britain, guarded and distant, seemingly there simply for the sake of the bureaucrats) to enquire as to whether there were any others : whether we had a wide choice. Just as well! The hostal was apparently closed for the closed season – no masses of (mainly Spanish) visitors, so they’d taken themselves off to London or the like for a few weeks – bloody cheek!
– But luck was with us once more, because one of the assistants said that she was going home for lunch, and would happily take us by car to a small residential hostal a couple of km further along. Went to bar and waited. Thanks goodness that all the luggage we ever cart about is a couple of Antler “easybags”, nice canvas cases on wheels, each about the size of a medium knapsack. With more, we’d have been tired, dragging them the full 100 yards up the slope. This would probably go down as a half-hour struggle by Lonely Planet standards, so we felt we’d done well.
– Eventually got to the next little hamlet two km along the road, and found what turned out to be such a truly delightful residential that we stayed a week. Go there! Casa Florencio – it’s named after the man of the family who’d owned it many years back, when it was the local dance hall! Those were days when the hills around were full of work, and full of working, dancing people. Nowadays there are far fewer, and many of the people that you’ll see here in the summer are returnees and their families, back from the gold paved streets of the Americas, building ghastly “villas” with styles reflective of the other side of the pond – sore thumbs.
– Plenty of opportunity to walk around this neck of the woods, but the area’s much under-touristed, so the paths can be a bit overgrown, and the local maps are strictly for the goats. But do have a look at Lama and nearby Covelo (just full of granite carvings that have meaning to the locals on the gradually deteriorating houses) – and do try to travel a little bit by leg, rather than wasting your lives rushing past life in a car. The people are friendly and smiling – why just pass them all by at 45 mph? Why miss the opportunity of being shown the path to the ancient mills by the river, and afterwards being treated to coffee, liqueurs and loud laughter with the family around the table on a Sunday afternoon?
– As Alain de Botton so brilliantly points out, there’s an art to travel, and it’s really not just all about some competition to clock up as many guide-book-mentioned relics as you can in a fortnight. Do a websearch for his book, “The Art of Travel” – a really good read, and so much better than the rather trendy-trashy one-hour programme that they stuck together for television.
– Oh, so far as eating is concerned, the restaurant in Lama called “Prost” is an effort at effecting a meld of German and Spanish, and is best left to those with delapidated, rather than delicate pallates. The one that’s frequented by the locals is “O Minton” – basic and unpretentious, but all’s edible. But what about Casa Florencio – oh well. When we cottoned on to the fact that they’d provide food “de la casa” just by asking, we decided to eat there: to give it a try. What wonders! Fresh fish : fresh vegetables : eggs from their own chickens! Absolutley delicious, and 100% good value for money – as were the extremely well appointed rooms.
– There are quite a few places around to let, and we saw an especially nice three apartment old farm & barn conversion called As Penizas, near to the next village, Aquasantos. Enough space for an army, and on hire for about 2700 euros a month. We were driven their by the elderly gent who owns it, who could barely see over the dashboard – cheaper than Alton Towers, and twice as frightening! Try emailing email@example.com.
– The picture is not of the place itself, as you’ll have guessed, but of one of the beautiful old corn drying barns that stands just outside, in the garden overlooking the wide valley beyond. They’re all over the place in Galicia: lots of different designs and constructions, but all basically the same shape. Everyone on the bus looked at us as if we were mad when we craned our necks and whooped with wonder and with glee at our first sight of one, a few days back. To boring old farts from England, they’re like nothing one’s ever seen before : to the Galician’s, they’re as common as dirt. Strange, isn’t it?
– Well, time to move on. Shall we go straight back down the hills into Pontevedra, and then to Portugal? Yes, let’s.
Getting to Valladolid with Ryanair
– Ryanair from Stansted to Valladolid was generally a “good buy”, and made us feel that our first budget experience was a good omen. The airports at both ends are small and somewhat more human as a result, and there was no sense of being herded or harried – perhaps because of the time of year though (?) We’re in our early sixties, and are a bit past liking the cut and thrust of modern travel environments.
– The flight was as expected at budget level, and everyone was friendly and helpful. The inboard advertising announcement on the way to Spain was , however, extremely rapid and garbled, and because it was almost totally incomprehensible, made us feel annoyed. Of course, though, the announcer was on a loser from the outset. Who’d want to buy expensive aeroplane trash on the way from Britain to Spain, when most of it was either irrelevant or likely to be available cheaper where we were going to?
– Why do all airlines do this inflight sales thing – is it worth it? Does it enhance customer relations in general?
By bus to Toro
– By bus or train is so much more likely to give us a feel of “real Spain”, so we happily forego the hired car caper. Just a few miles down the road from Valladolid is this little town. Not a wondrous write-up by Lonely Planet, of course. Not enough splendour.
– It’s at the top of the slope that runs down to the river Duero and the fertile plain beyond.
The bus arrives in the newer part of the town, but a short stroll across the perilous main road takes you under an arch into the older part, and the world changes. Quiet and untainted in its Spanishness, gentle, and well worth a day or two to those who are not fuelled by a “must do” mentality, but prefer top sit or to amble, and to watch the sunsets, like the locals (who know so much more than do we about how to “chill out”).
– That said, there are things to see and to look at. From the pedestrianised Plaza Major it’s just a few yards to the Colegiata, and a wonderful view down to the river. The area that you look down upon was apparently “done up” some years back with Euro-money, but it’s slipped back into Spanish-style space, much untended and overgrown. No manicured grass for Toro. There must have been much planting – cypress trees and many footpaths.
– You can still easily walk down (or drive your hire car to save your tootsies too much strain). The Puente Major is a delightful sight from the river banks, and a gentle walk across its ancient arches is a pleasure : trout, barbels, wagtails and herons abound. The banks are green and lush. The sound of the weir beneath the arches is lulling.
– About a dozen places to bed, across the price range. Handy little tourists’ centre. Another of the many places to confirm the fundemental differences between Spain and so much of modern Britain. Full of shops of every kind, open and active, and not a single one for cat protection or the Red Cross. Not yet forced into a disintegration of its society by the like of Sainsburys, Tesco, or TK Maxx …. though the like of these are available a few miles down the road.
– Toro’s a really nice place to get started.
Astorga’s awful, on the other hand
– You might expect something a little nice about this place, although a “between the lines” read of the Lonely Planet entry might forewarn you. We found it heartless. A one night stay was like an encapsulation within an old town’s old quarter, from which all ordinary day-to-day life has been sucked out.
– Yes, there are lots of things that one simply “must see”, including a church by Gaudi, but none of the small shops and bars that are essential to make it a Spanish setting of a social kind, with bustle and bumble. Perhaps we didn’t go to the right spots, but we were slap bang in the middle, which could be a buzz like the squares of Toledo, but isn’t.
–Almost ran all the way to the bus station in the morning.
Ourense is alright
– Having rushed out of Astorga we headed for Ourense via Ponferrado, by bus. An interesting ride in its own right, and plenty of window gazing opportunities. The Lonely Planet description of the steel-town is about right. Not a place to dwell for too long, but the older part is reasonably pleasant as a sit-for-an-hour option. We took the train from Poferrado to Ourense, which took us into Galicia, and what a good choice that was. It’s a delightful trip, most especially the sections that take you through the rivers’ deep valleys. The Spanish trains are not expensive at all, and it’s as enthralling an experience every time as is going by train in any part of the world.
– A reasonable write up by Lonely Planet : Isibi is closed. The riverside areas are worth a stroll, and the seven bridges (there may be more, that’s what we counted) include one that spans upwards like a whale’s jaw, and which you can walk up for a wonderful view.
– If you look around, you’ll also find that there are hot springs out-gushers at various sites within the upper town, where old and young gather to stick their elbows, hands, and other bits & bobs into the healing heat to be cured. But be careful – it’s hot. You can also stand and chat for an hour or two if it turns you on.
– Down by the riverside there’s an area with a clutch of small pools about the size of big jacuzzis where you can sit and soak up the heat of the waters, come rain or come shine. And it’s free! No-one is there to rip you off, just a couple of blokes to drain the pools and give them a bit of a scrub down every now and then. There are no dogs to foul the area. There are no railings to stop you from slipping down into the water and breaking your toe, then claiming ten thousand from the community coffers. Is this the same Europe of which Britain is a part?
– Back up in the upper town there are two indoor market halls, and stalls around that sell all manner of snacks, seeds, and shovels. Plenty of people ambling all the time.
-Yes, Ourense’s alright for a short visit
– Not much to say about the place really. Disappointing on the whole, though it’s not at all short of interesting buildings and some nice little squares in the old town, and a good little museum. Seemed a bit “posey” in its old quarter and busy medium townish, perhaps. Not really sure why we weren’t strongly struck, but we wanted to leave fairly soon. Probably getting a bit fed up with towns – no fields, no cows, no birds, no amble.
– Wondered what to do. Decided that we really couldn’t hack Santiago, despite the fact that we’d come to this neck of the woods to do just that. Getting already cheesed with towns and shops and commerce and glitz, so decided to not be pilgrims after all. Where shall we go, then? South coast – not terribly attractively written up by Lonely Planet. Portugal – a little later perhaps.
– So let’s just go to the bus station and, map in hand, look at the itineries on the walls, and find out just where all the buses DO go to. Then we’ll think about going there. Now there’s a place that isn’t even mentioned in Lonely Planet – next posting includes Lama.